Few days back I communicated a paper in a journal and some silly mistakes are there. While citing some other author's paper in my paper, instead of reference number it is showing a sign of question mark. I know that's a mistake while running the LaTeX code. I didn't check in hurry. Shall I inform the editor about my mistake? If yes, then how should I write a letter to convey this?

  • 2
    I agree more with MrMeritology's answer (send a corrected version) than with Oswald Veblen's (wait until you're doing revisions anyway). If I were the referee, I might want to look at some of the papers you cite, and I'd be a bit annoyed if the citations were all just [?]. Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 12:13
  • @AndreasBlass Yes sir, that was my concern too. It is quite obvious that a referee will be annoyed at that. thank you sir for your suggestion.
    – monalisa
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 12:18

2 Answers 2


Yes, you should inform the editor. Simply resend the corrected paper, and explain the error. There is no need to write an extensive letter or to make a grand apology. Something like this in an email will do fine:

"Dear Editor,

I am sending you a corrected copy of the paper titled '...', submitted on XX. There were errors on pages A, B, and C in the citations. They appeared as "?" instead of the correct citation, due to incorrect processing in LaTex. This version has the correct citation and I have proof read it for other errors.

Best regards,


Also - give the file a different name than the original and a different time stamp so there is no confusion between the corrected version and the original.

  • Thanks for your timely reply. One more doubt. Shall I send the mail to the editor of my paper or the editorial office or both.
    – monalisa
    Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 5:56
  • 1
    Just send the corrected version to the editor assigned to the paper. Commented Jun 18, 2014 at 6:11

In mathematics (and I suspect in many other areas), the paper review process usually goes like this:

  1. Submit your original paper.
  2. The referee's report comes back some time later, suggesting some changes
  3. You make some changes and resubmit an updated version
  4. items 2 and 3 repeat until the referee is satisfied
  5. Now is the time to put the paper into the format required by the journal (e.g. using the journal's style file). Also make any final changes required by the referee
  6. The journal will prepare the paper and send you page proofs showing the exact final version of the paper
  7. You verify the page proofs (usually there is a short deadline to do this)

As you can see, there are several opportunities in the process when you can fix small typographical problems in the paper. And I have found typographical issues in almost every paper I have refereed, so it is expected that you will need to fix some.

One "trick" is not to put the paper into the style required by the journal (e.g. the journal's special LaTeX style) until the final revision. This guarantees that you have at least one shot to fix any typos, even if the referee miraculously does not recommend any changes.

Note that significant changes are something else entirely, and you should avoid them if possible once the paper is submitted. This includes things like rewriting the proof of a theorem or adding new results. But fixing a misspelled word or replacing a "??" with a citation number are fine.

  • "One "trick" is not to put the paper into the required style [...] until the final revision. " This strategy sounds prone to backfiring, since it's probably equally easy to mess up during the translation between different formats than during the writing. Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 15:38

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